The value of modern political satire: obligatory or unwarranted?

By Olivia Montes

Elm Staff Writer

“Saturday Night Live” came back strong this week with their signature mocking of the Trump administration — but with so many television programs available to laugh at, is its political humor still needed?

Political satire itself, a centuries-old ritual that accompanies all high-ranking officials before, during, and after being sworn into public servitude, has become a remedy to not just our frustrations towards the functions of our government, but also to comfort us when all hope seems lost.

Political satire is not a finger-pointing game, nor was it ever meant to be a hate-driven attack towards our representatives. Satirists do not intend to offend or criticize anyone in such a hateful, disgusting manner. Though their words and actions might seem harsh in the minds of their targets, hosts and cast members alike are merely easing the tensions of their audiences for their own and others’ benefit.

The availability and continuation of political jabs shown on SNL and other late-night programs — such as Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show;” John Oliver’s “Last Week;” and, Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Show” — have provided audiences with doses of smart, impactful humor time and time again, administration after administration, and are very much needed sources of both complete absurdity and serious information.

Carlos Maza of Vox said in 2017 that comedic satirical programs have had boosted ratings because of their regular lampooning of the Trump administration.

“But beyond the jokes and sight gags, political satirists have done an excellent job of seriously covering the Trump administration — sometimes even better than major TV news networks,” Maza said.

These programs, along with their offspring, generate a new age of laughs and provide much-needed reflections on the ways our society is being governed.

Of course, it does come with its fair share of backlash.

“[President] Trump hates this stuff [because] more than anything, he fears ridicule,” The New York Times’ Timothy Egan said in 2019. “When [‘Real Talk’ host] Bill Maher compared him to an orangutan, Mr. Trump sued, [but] jokes about pompous, hypersensitive, orangutan-looking public figures are protected free speech.”

The entire point of political satire is not to just make fun of who is in charge. Today’s satirists acknowledge the often abysmal and bleak issues dominating the news stream, rather than completely sugarcoating the situation.

The host and cast members of late-night shows do not intend to side with either political party, as they do not completely trash or act optimistic towards one group over the other.

Instead, they firmly stand with their morals on the issues being presented, making them just as real and as vulnerable as the people they are poking fun at.

Like us, these people just want to release their tense frustrations the only way they know how: through playful, comedic banter.

“The supply side of the recent dynamic is Trump, who provides the current group of late-night shows with endless material,” The Daily Beast’s Chris Smith said in 2019. “In the hands of Colbert and company, it’s very funny.”

As the audience, we are consoled through the power of satire — the strange and charismatic antics of individuals like Colbert make us believe that we can indeed laugh again at the absurdities we watch erupting behind closed government doors.

“We need to call out the moral crimes: the adults financed by taxpayers who let children die in their care; the secretary of state who gives a pass to a kingdom that cuts up a journalist with a bone saw; the press office that covers for a president who can rarely go a single hour without telling a lie,” Egan said. “But also, we need to laugh.”

As a nation, we turn to entertainment to heal and recover from the day’s unfolded events, to relax and unwind from the stress burning in our brains and churning in our stomachs from today’s news cycle.

It is because of political satire that we can, for a moment, let go of all the aggravation and confusion we face each agonizing minute of each agonizing day, and laugh at the creative playful, comedic banter our favorite hosts provide for us each night.

Because, after all, laughter is indeed the best medicine — and satire is the best substitute for what is going on in the news right now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *